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Christy Catherine Marshall

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December 22, 2010

We received a surprise gift of some movie tickets — woohoo! — so I immediately hopped in the car with my kids to go see Tangled. I had seen previews for it, and my younger children had been talking about it with their friends all week. But I must thank our local paper’s movie review guy for writing a fantastic, detailed review of it that made me add it to my must-see list.

I’m not a big fan of paying to see cartoon movies (except I loved “Toy Story 3” and “Despicable Me”), but this one came as a huge surprise. It was absolutely hilarious! It’s a retelling of the story of Rapunzel, who must “let down her hair” to the evil woman who has kidnapped her and kept her locked up for years in a tower. And then along comes her prince (who is actually a bandit trying to escape from his pursuers).

I really fell in love with the characters, and there were several times throughout the movie where I felt like the situation was so desperate they were doomed. But of course it’s a Disney film, so scene after scene leads viewers to the ultimate joyous ending. Of all the Disney princess films I’ve seen, I now think “Tangled” is one of my favorites.

We loved the horse, Max, who is part hound dog. We loved Rapunzel (voiced by Mandy Moore) and her prince Flynn Rider (voiced by Zachary Levi). We especially enjoyed the comic scenes with the dancing men and all the surprises that ensued from their desires to “live out their dreams.”

This is a film for all ages — there were even some toddlers in our theater who sat quite still for most of the film. And anyone who is young at heart will be touched by the tears of a father who longs for his “lost princess.” The lantern scenes are going to become classic Disney images that will be instantly recognized someday as being from “Tangled.”

I found this Japanese movie poster, and I think it’s interesting they are calling the movie, “Ra-pun-zeru” instead of “Tangled.”

That’s one comment our local movie reviewer made — he thought it had a bad title. Hmmm… I sort of like the title because her long hair does cause her to get tangled up in all sorts of messes — and it also makes it much easier to get boys to the theater. They wouldn’t want to see a “princess” movie (yuk!) but they’ll go see an adventure tale with a sword-bearing, swashbuckling hero who rescues his princess from the dangers of the evil world.

By: Heather Ivester in: Family,Japan,Movies | Permalink | Comments & Trackbacks (0)

June 15, 2010

Those of you who’ve been reading here for a while know I’m crazy about Japan. I taught English in Osaka for a couple of years, and when I came home, I left part of my heart over there. Well, I’ve become acquainted with a Christian mom who writes novels in North Carolina, after living in Japan 18 years! I’m so happy to introduce you to author Alice J. Wisler.

Hi Alice. Welcome to Mom 2 Mom! We’re so glad you’re here. Can you tell us a little about your background as the daughter of missionaries in Japan?

I was born in Osaka, Japan in the 1960s to career-missionary parents. I went to Japanese kindergarten in Osaka and an international elementary school in Kyoto. High school was in Kobe, and since the distance was far, I lived in the high school dorm for four years. Then I went back to teach English in a church-run school in the 80s after college and a stint in the Philippines. So, I’ve lived 18 years total in Japan.

Wow. That’s amazing! Do you still find yourself remembering Japan? How do you keep your memories alive? Do you have any favorite Japanese dishes that you like to eat or cook?

Japan is a huge part of my life. I love authentic Japanese food (Kanki and any restaurant that serves their food with sword-like knives is not what I grew up with). Sushi is my favorite. I like to make tempura at home with my fourteen-year-old son. I sing Japanese songs from childhood around the house all the time.

How did you get started writing fiction?

Boredom. I got tired of fighting with my younger brother and needed something else to do. I’ve been writing since first grade. My teacher had me stand up in front of the entire class and read my short stories. One was about having the “chicken pops” and one was about a birthday party. Fiction came to me at about third grade.

Do you think writing can be therapeutic for women who encounter difficult times in life?

Writing is one of the best forms of therapy. When you put your heart and all its anguish on paper, you experience clarity and comfort. I thank God every day for his gift to us in the healing that comes from the tool of writing through sorrow.

Can you share with us about your son, Daniel, and how your writing ministry for grieving parents began to develop?

Daniel, my second child, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma at the age of three in 1996. He went through chemo, radiation and surgeries to try to reduce and remove the malignant tumor in his neck. In 1997, he died in my arms. He was four. I was thirty-six.

Since then my world changed. I started Daniel’s House Publications in his memory and created a monthly ezine, wrote articles, remembrance cards, spoke at bereavement conferences, and was asked to lead writing workshops. I saw that this tool of writing benefits many, so eventually started teaching online writing courses.

What can people expect from taking your online course, “Writing the Heartache Writing Workshop?”

My online courses last five weeks. I send the assignments out via email and the attendees complete them and send them back to me for feedback. I offer guidelines on writing poetry, essays, and for publication. The five-week outline is available here at my website, as well as information on how to sign up.

Can you tell us about your “in-person” grief-writing seminar that will take place in North Carolina in July?

The all-day workshop I’ll hold on July 17th will be an expansion of what I offer online. We’ll write from photographs and from mementos. We’ll create poetry and essays and share. The atmosphere will be a warm one to tell our stories.

Not everyone will be writing about a significant loved one who has died. Some will participate and write about other losses — loss of dreams, broken relationships, etc. This event will take place at the Country Inns and Suites near the Raleigh-Durham, NC Airport from 8 AM to 5 PM. You can read more about this exciting day here.

Well, it looks like you’ve got a busy summer ahead. Congratulations on your novel, How Sweet It Is, being a finalist for the 2010 Christy Awards! Can you tell us about this book?

How Sweet It Is is about getting away from the past in order to heal and start a new future. Deena Livingston, the main character, has been in an accident and broken up with her fiance. She moves to a cabin in Bryson City in the Smoky Mountains where she’s to teach cooking to disadvantaged middle school kids in an after-school program. The story is about forgiveness.

Are you looking forward to traveling to St. Louis for the awards ceremony?

Yes, I’m looking forward to flying there later this month. I’ll also be signing advanced reading copies (ARCs) of Hatteras Girl at the International Christian Retailers Show held after the Christy Awards.

What is your new novel about?

Hatteras Girl is set in the Outer Banks. Jackie and her childhood friend, Minnie, want to take over the Bailey Bed and Breakfast in Nags Head, but obstacles (including a handsome realtor) get in the way. This is a story about having to wait for dreams to come true.

That’s a topic we’re all familiar with! Do you have any tips for parents who would love to find more time to write? Is it worth the effort?

Keep at it. Don’t give up! Make time to craft the best stories you can write. Edit often. Yes, it is worth the effort because there is no other satisfaction like having your work published.

Thank you for your encouraging advice! Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

Thanks for this interview, Heather. It’s been fun!

You can learn more about Alice J. Wisler and her really cool novels at her website. Be sure to check out the beauiful Dutch cover of Rain Song!

October 5, 2009

I woke up to an email this morning from my Japanese friend who lives near Tokyo. She and her family came to visit us last Christmas, and not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. She told me to be on the lookout for a box of “Japanese snacks” which she and her children picked out for us. How exciting!

It seems like only yesterday they were all camped out in our den, helping us sort the piles of rice cakes and Japanese candy they brought to share with us. As I’ve been doing some fall cleaning in the past month, I keep finding dozens of origami animals, flowers, and other shapes. They’re everywhere.

When I lived in Japan, “Ohisashi buri desu ne” was a greeting people would say to me if they hadn’t seen me in a while. I guess it’s similar to our English expression of “Long time, no see.” It pretty much sums up how I feel about Japan.

I read recently that author Kate DiCamillo wrote Because of Winn Dixie while she was living in Minnesota and longing for her native Florida. On her website, she says:

I wrote Because of Winn-Dixie during the worst winter on record in Minnesota. I was cold and lonely and homesick for Florida (where I grew up). I couldn’t afford to go home, but I could write a book that took me there.

I think that’s what I’ve been doing lately. I can’t afford to fly to Japan, but I can read about it and write about it. My desire to write fiction has become so strong lately, mostly due to this nagging sense of feeling “homesick” for Japan. I’m trying-trying-trying to carve out some space and time to write these stories that are on my heart. I just wonder if there is a child out there somewhere I’m supposed to reach. I guess I’ll never know unless I try.

It’s so much easier to write in my journal and tell myself I’m too busy to write fiction and send stuff out to agents and editors. That’s scary! And time-consuming! And how can I even know this is what God wants me to do with my time?

Then I read a quote like this, from author Jonathan Rogers, and I shuffle onward:

For me, that’s what writing is like. All these broken pieces of truth and beauty lying about: how do you begin to put them together into something that is a little truer, a little more beautiful than what we see every day? Stories, when they are told the right way, give us something that is TRUER than everyday life…

That’s why stories are so important in a child’s life, and in anyone else’s. Teaching a child what’s true and right requires the telling of stories—Bible stories, histories, family stories, fiction. It’s fine to tell our children that virtue is good. It’s better to tell them a story that shows them that virtue is beautiful and desirable. It’s better still to tell them a story that lets them enter into a life of virtue—that lets them try on virtue for size.

I hope you enjoy a refreshing month of October!


By: Heather Ivester in: Children's Books,Japan,Writing | Permalink | Comments Off on Ohisashi buri desu ne

March 4, 2008

A few weeks ago, I wrote that my one goal for this new year is to bring more beauty into my world. I think my soul is truly starving for beauty. Even though I’m surrounded by God’s creation, I haven’t been actively pursuing it as a way of life.

Since writing that goal here, I’ve somehow found the courage to do something I’ve always wanted to do, but been afraid. I’ve signed up for a beginner watercolor painting class for adults!

We met for the first time last week, and I had so much fun. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and stop interviewing the teacher and other students! They’re people like me, stepping out to try something new, something scary. Yet even our teacher admitted that she began painting in her adult years, as a way to work through a period of grief in her life.

I remember many years ago, my mom came to visit me while I was teaching in Japan, and we spent a wonderful day hiking on the island of Miyajima, off the coast of Hiroshima. It was a gorgeous April day, and the pink cherry blossoms were in full bloom, looking like puffs of cotton candy dotted throughout the island. As we sat down on a bench near a temple, we noticed a lady dabbing watercolors onto small, postcard-size art paper.

When we remarked on the beauty of her paintings, she smiled and said, “I give them to you.” And she did! She gave us several of her lovely scenes, which I’ve always treasured. The red of the temple, pink of the cherry blossoms, and blue of the sea are now forever etched in my memory.

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed by the beauty of white church steeples set against the pine trees and sunsets. Our yellow jonquils are blooming like mad all over our front yard. Yesterday, I was driving my kids to school and I almost had to pull off the road when I saw several rows of yellow jonquils set against the backdrop of a bright red barn. The scene was so gorgeous I could hardly breathe!

I’m not really sure what I hope to accomplish in taking this painting class. (Mainly, it’s just an opportunity to give myself a break from housework!) Yet, already I’m finding myself more aware of color, of details and shadows. Maybe this will someday work its way into my writing.

An artist looks for a story to paint with color; a writer looks for a story to paint with words.

October 11, 2007

I’m still finding excuses to write about Japan!

It has been 15 years this month since I moved to Japan to teach English — yet not a day has gone by since I’ve returned that I haven’t thought of my experiences there.

If you’ve come here via the Japan category in my blog, you may like to check out my last two posts for Writer Interrupted.

In September, I wrote about the kanji for “busy,” which is composed of the radicals that mean “death” and “heart.” My post is geared for parents who are torn between the demands of family and God’s call on the heart to write.

Slowing Down the Writer’s Heart

My October post focuses on Siri Mitchell’s book, Moon Over Tokyo. If you’re looking for a fun romantic novel that will whisk you away to the heart of Japan, I highly recommend this book. It was fantastic armchair traveling for this mama on a shoestring budget.

Inspired by the Great Outdoors

What about Japanese culture or language inspires you most? I’m thinking that October might be a good month to encourage my kids to write some haiku poetry.

P.S. If you’re interested in going overseas to teach in an international school, I’ve discovered Kelly Blackwell’s blog, All You Need to Know About Teaching Overseas, to be a rich source of helpful information! This type of advice wasn’t around when I was looking into teaching overseas — I had to look in books and go to the Japanese consulate in my hometown to nose around for ideas. If the timing seems right in your life, you should go for it!

By: Heather Ivester in: Japan | Permalink | Comments Off on Writing About Japan

September 18, 2007

We started our new Beth Moore Bible study at church last week, and I’m so excited. At last, I’ve found a new direction for this blog, something I’ve prayed about all summer. Instead of popping in daily to chat like I’ve done the past two years, my plan now is to write a weekly devotional reflecting on what I’ve learned. I hope you’ll join the journey with me!

We’re studying Daniel. If you’ve gone through this before, what did you think? If you’d like to join me here through watching the DVD and studying on your own, that would be great. Let’s go!


Looking Back
In my early 20s, I went to live in Japan to teach English. I worked for a Japanese Christian church and stayed with a Japanese family my first year there.

After living overseas for about six months, I began to wonder what my next step should be. Did God want me to spend the rest of my life in Japan, as a single career missionary and teacher? If so, why did I have such a strong desire to get married and have children? Did He want me to come home and work or go back to school?

As I began to pray deeply about this matter, a certain school came into my mind. I sent off for information about this school, a Bible college near my home state, which offered several programs for graduate students. (This is before we could research online!)

When the packet from the school arrived, I tore open the manila envelope and gazed longingly at the glossy pictures inside. Young men and women sitting under trees, Bibles open, intensely studying the Word of God. My heart beat faster thinking how wonderful it would be to delve into Hebrew and Greek, gaining a greater understanding of the Bible’s original languages. I couldn’t imagine anything more exciting than going to this school!

Yet when I looked into the cost of tuition, I didn’t see how I could pay for it. I didn’t want to ask my parents for money, and I didn’t feel like I had anything unique to offer to apply for a scholarship. I was just one of thousands of confused 20-somethings, wondering what the next step of my life should be.

So instead of applying to this Bible college, I decided to stay in Japan another year and work on saving money. I shifted my schedule around, allowing me to take on a few higher-paying teaching jobs, and I visited a Japanese university that offered an Asian studies program for foreign students.

Based on my application and interview, this school offered me a teaching assistantship so my tuition was paid for. It was an incredible opportunity. God allowed me to go to school – just like I’d prayed for! But instead of studying the Bible on an American campus, I was studying Japanese culture, art, history, and language at a university in Japan.

Taking the Next Step
By the time I felt sure God was leading me back to the U.S. I was engaged to be married in a few months (another long story.) Our first year of marriage, I attended graduate school full-time (along with my husband), and I worked two jobs to help pay for it – writing articles for the campus newspaper and working in marketing for the university publisher.

Years later, I’m at LAST able to study the Bible intensely like I’ve always dreamed of. Instead of sitting under trees on a gorgeous campus in my early 20s, I’m now in my late 30s, a busy mother and wife, studying on my kitchen table and in a classroom at church. I watch my teacher on video, a dynamic Texan woman who makes me laugh and cry with her powerful testimony.

Instead of serving God on an overseas mission field, here I am, blogging away. Some of you are reading this on a computer thousands of miles from me. Hello! Bonjour! Konnichiwa! Guten Tag! Within the walls of my own home, I have five little souls who hear me share the excitement daily. Lord willing, I want to raise a new generation of Daniels!

Everyone says you get out of Bible study what you put into it. This would be a very shallow experience if I only went to the meetings, sat through the videos, then did nothing on my own. What makes this study so rich is the one-on-one time I spend with the Holy Spirit, as I encounter Him, my Teacher, in my individual devotional time.

In the introduction to Daniel, Beth Moore says, “If The Patriarchs was a camel ride, this one … is a rocket ride — with the windows open.” She later writes, “The wind of the Holy Spirit blows so hard through some of these scriptures, you may have to re-fix your hair.”

Ready to Blast Off!
Years and years have gone by since I first prayed, “Lord, please open the doors for me to study Your Word!” The past decade I’ve spent bearing and nursing children has consumed me and kept me so physically exhausted, I’ve had to prop my eyelids open to study.

And to be honest, I’ve never made it through a whole Beth Moore study intact – I’ve always gotten overwhelmed with the busy-ness of life, sick children who’ve kept me at home and away from the fellowship, and distractions.

Will you pray for me? I’m starting out with such dreams of completing all the homework and attending every session for the next 12 weeks. My life is so hectic right now — yet I don’t want to give up on this!

Connecting Hearts
What are you going through now? Are you able to get some Bible study in, somehow, someway? Ask God to open up your schedule so that you can. You’ll impact every person who comes into contact with you. This is truly exciting!

Lord, as moms, we’re busy women. We’re tired! We can’t get up early like we want to because we were up late last night feeding the baby or nursing the sick. We wake up in the morning and face mountains of laundry and piles of dishes. Our to-do list includes everything but spending time with you. Help us, Lord! Give us energy and time. Deepen our joy and longing to spend time with you. Amen.

March 22, 2007

The cherry blossoms are absolutely gorgeous right now in our hometown. This morning, I fell in love with the trees in bloom at our church. I set my kids on the branches of this one tree — and took a mental picture because I didn’t have a camera with me.

Two smiling faces, bright pink cherry blossoms, sunshine on my back … These are the moments I want to keep a snapshot of in my soul. Why do I ever complain when God gives me gifts like these?

Thinking about cherry blossoms — Sakura — always reminds me of Japan. The Japanese are wild about their cherry blossoms, yet the season is short, so enjoying the blossoms also has a tone of sadness. The Sakura Zensen or “cherry blossom front” is a daily part of the weather forecast.

This website also explains more about the significance of the cherry blossom to the Japanese culture, and if you’re interested in kanji, you’ll find the meaning of the sakura character fascinating:

The picture on the left part of this kanji is a tree — can you see it? Then the character on the bottom right is a woman, and on the right top is a hair ornament. A woman wearing an ornament in her hair is pretty. A cherry blossom is pretty. So this is the character for SAKURA.

Can you see why I spent three years of my life studying Japanese? I went crazy with it — don’t even get me started on the hidden spiritual meanings in many of the characters. It’s truly amazing.

Actually, I read that the “cherry blossom capital of the world” is considered to be Macon, Georgia! There are 300,000 cherry trees in Macon, and right now there is a ten-day Cherry Blossom Festival going on. Maybe we can go someday.

Are the cherry blossoms blooming in your hometown?

March 3, 2007

Today is March 3rd, which means it’s a day to celebrate daughters in Japan. It’s called Japanese Doll Festival, or Hina Ningyo. I posted about it here exactly a year ago.

I’m always nostalgic for Japan on March 3rd because I truly can’t believe God has blessed me as the mother of three daughters. If I lived in Japan, we’d have a specific area devoted in our home to display these dolls — and we’d be eating special food and having a party!

I would love to hear from any Japanese readers about what you do to celebrate the Japanese Doll Festival in your hometown.

A few minutes ago, a girl named Chikako posted this on her Myspace blog, with an adorable picture of some Japanese paper dolls:

It’s March 3rd. Today is Girl’s Day called Hina-matsuri in Japan. It is also called Peach Festival or Doll’s Day.

It’s not a national holiday, but we celebrate with decollating traditional Japanese dolls called Hina-ningyo. But only family which has girls.

We eat special rice cracker called Hina-arare, 3 colours mochi, Chirashi-zushi and drink white sake. Recently, we eat Hima-matsuri cake.

My mom decollated Hina-ningyo when my sister and I were little girls, but not now. We had small Hina-matsuri party tonight. We had nice yakiniku for dinner!

The picture is paper Hina-ningyo decollated in Taketa. The town are having Hima-matsuri festival until March 18th. We can also see traditional dolls.

Kawaii … Natsukashi, ne! 😉

If you have a daughter, give her an extra-special hug today. She’s worthy of celebrating!!!

By: Heather Ivester in: Japan | Permalink | Comments Off on Today is Girls’ Day in Japan

February 13, 2007

I have all these stories whirling around in my head from New York — and I truly want to offer you an inside peek at what it’s like to attend one of these writing conferences.

Here’s how it started for me. Last November, I discovered National Novel Writing Month to be a great excuse to pull out my much-neglected children’s novel I’ve been trying to write for years. Like thousands of people, I loved feeling part of the NaNoWriMo masses, all of us motivated to churn out 50,000 words of something during the month of November.

About a week into this, my wonderful husband emailed and asked if I wanted to go to this SCBWI conference in New York. He said it would be a fun trip for us — also an excuse to celebrate his recent decision to start a new job/ career. I signed up the next day and discovered there was a one-day writing workshop being offered for the first time ever. So I signed up for that too!

Later, I found out that the Writer’s Intensive Workshop sold out within 24 hours, and the waiting list included hundreds of people. So that was my first hint that this was God’s timing.

Although I’ve attended one small SCBWI conference in my local region, this was my first national. At these conferences, you have to put aside any of your shy, introverted nature (if you’re like me) and just start talking to people! Which I did. And here are some of the cool things that happened.

The first day, there were 225 of us wannabe writers. After listening to a joint panel with several agents and editors, we divided into assigned tables of nine writers and one editor or agent. Each of us brought ten copies of a 500-word writing sample and read it out loud to the group. After we read, the group members critiqued us, and the agent or editor offered us a professional opinion.

I was a nervous wreck until the first girl read her piece, then I just relaxed and realized what a great opportunity this was. Our editor was absolutely fantastic — she asked questions to clarify, told us what she’d think if this piece came across her desk, told us areas to work on, explained what it reminded her of, shared news about other books on similar topics, etc.

Like many of the editors, she told us she doesn’t even LOOK at unsolicited email queries — she said she deletes them right away.

She also said she has to first look at what the agents send her because they call and move things along (!). So from this, I decided finding an agent is pretty important — except you don’t want to find a bad agent who never sells anything and who nobody likes! This editor says her “slush pile” (of unsolicited manuscripts) is huge, and it’s the bottom of her priority list to get to it. “But all of us would like to discover new talent,” she explained. “So we do eventually get around to it. Just give us about six months.” Agony!

I got some really good feedback — both positive and negative — and now I have lots of specific areas to work on. OK, so then we went to lunch — and I ate with a writer, illustrator, and editor, and we discussed our favorite children’s picture books. All those nights reading out loud to my kids — I’m an “expert” in something after all! It was so fun!

Our afternoon session was similar to the morning, except this time I was with a different group of people and had an agent overseeing the critique. She brought a totally different point of view — focusing more on marketability, since she makes her living off 15% of your book sales! She had a great sense of humor and was also thorough in her critique. In my morning group, most people were writing middle grade or young adult novels, but in the afternoon group, most were working on picture books or poems — so it was an interesting mix.

The amazing thing is — there was a lady in my second group who lives in Japan! She’s an American, but has lived in Japan for 13 or 14 years, and we hung out a lot together during the rest of the conference. Since my novel involves a Japanese character, we really connected; bonded even!

The day ended with another panel of editors, as well as a motivating talk from Newbery-Award winner, Linda Sue Park. She reminded us the most important part of our writing is to love what we do — because even if we end up with a book contract, we’re still at the mercy of book sales and reviewers! We must absolutely love our characters and stories — because that’s what will keep us going.

The next day was the opening of the main conference, and SCBWI executive director, Lin Oliver, stated that this was the largest winter conference ever, with over 1,000 attendees from 44 states and 9 countries. I talked to so many people, it’s all a blur right now — but I do have several business cards to sort through.

On Saturday, I was captivated by Susan Cooper’s speech on the power of our childhood imaginations. She’s the author of The Dark is Rising. She shared what it was like to grow up in England, listening to opera on the BBC radio (no TV) and being acutely aware of the evil in the world, as she saw the sky light up red when London was being bombed in the war.

After this talk, I went to hear an editor from Penguin share about children’s series — how they’re created, what publishers are looking for, etc. Then we all attended a sit-down luncheon, where I “happened” to sit down next to a man who is an English professor in Tokyo! Another new friend who encouraged me to keep writing about Japan.

Our speaker for the luncheon was Ann Brashares, author of the highly successful YA series, The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Ann shared the behind-the-scenes of how she wrote that book (on maternity leave from her editing job, while expecting child #3). “The green of the cover will always remind me of morning sickness!” she confessed. She lives in NYC and told us her novel’s long-awaited release date was none other than September 11, 2001. Her priorities changed completely that day, and she almost forgot about “the book.”

The last great speaker we heard was Katherine Paterson, author of Bridge to Terabithia, which you probably know is a new movie, coming out this week. Katherine says she’s seen the movie three times, and “it has my approval.”

I was most interested in hearing her speak since she’s a Christian, daughter of missionaries to China, and the mother of four children (two biological, two adopted). Katherine said she started writing when her kids were young “because at the end of the day, I needed something that wasn’t eaten up, dirtied up, or torn up.”

I loved her speech. She’s 74 years old and has seven grandchildren. Out of everything she said, what stuck with me most is how she’s integrated writing into her family life so successfully. A lesson for all of us!

She told a funny story of how she recently went to Sweden to receive an award, and she brought her family with her. After they had their picture made with the crown princess of Sweden, her five-year-old granddaughter whispered, “Nana, are we famous now?” Adorable!

I know this summary has gotten so long — but I wanted to keep it to one post. What Katherine Paterson and Susan Cooper both emphasized is going deep within ourselves to “write the stories that no one else can write.” And quit worrying that you’re not good enough — just write!

If you love children’s books and have ever thought of writing or illustrating one, I highly recommend an SCBWI conference. You’ll definitely leave inspired.

Here’s a geeky picture of me, ecstactic, holding my freshly signed copies of Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia and Jacob Have I Loved (which she graciously inscribed to my children!)

Since we also brought our ten-year-old son with us, other thrills of the trip included watching him and his dad ice skate in Central Park and hearing their stories of sightseeing while I attended the conference. (I really think I had more fun, but they’re convinced I missed out!)

New York City seems to be a safe, clean place — much different than when I was there in the early 90s. There were no street musicians glaring at you if you walked by without giving them a tip, and I never felt unsafe.

We saw lots of women pushing baby strollers in three-inch spiked boots. Now there’s the real mystery — how do New Yorkers walk in their gorgeous shoes?

February 8, 2007

In the spring of 2005, I started reviewing books for Amazon. It was a little scary — hee hee. Even scarier was the fact that people could vote whether or not my review was helpful. But I discovered I liked reviewing books. Who knew this would become such a passion?

I spent some time at Amazon last week importing my CWO Book Buzz reviews, and I read through some of my old ones. Have I ever mentioned Allen Say’s book, Grandfather’s Journey, here? I don’t think I have.

If you’ve never read anything by Allen Say, you’re in for a treat. Oh, I love his books! Your library probably has dozens in the picture book section — they’re the ones with gold medals on the front.

I distinctly remember the moment I finished this book for the first time. I got up from the couch and went and grabbed my journal and started writing a poem about Japan, having trouble focusing on the page through my tears. It was an awakening for me — and after that, I started entering (and losing) writing contests, as well as submitting (and having rejected) my writing.

In a desperate moment, I wrote Mr. Say a bona-fide fan letter through his publisher, Houghton Mifflin, and he wrote me back! I told him I felt like I wanted to write about Japan but didn’t know how. He said to just write-write-write. Fiction, non-fiction, poems, whatever. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do — so for now, I blog.

Here’s my review of Grandfather’s Journey (copied from Amazon):

I was curious about GRANDFATHER’S JOURNEY because our local library had several copies on the shelf, and I always enjoy discovering what makes a book an award winner. Mr. Say’s book won the 1994 Caldecott Medal, the same year Lois Lowry received the Newbery for her book, THE GIVER.

It’s an understatement to say this is one of the most beautiful children’s books ever written. Mr. Say gently describes his grandfather’s youthful journey from Japan to America. On his three-week steamship voyage, he is astonished by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. After embarking, he explores by train the western landscapes of enormous rock formations and endless farm fields.

During his travels, he meets people of different color, certainly a new sight for him. Say writes, “The more he traveled, the more he longed to see new places…” Eventually, his grandfather settles along the coast of California after briefly returning to Japan to marry his childhood sweetheart.

The couple have a daughter, whom we later learn is Say’s mother, the subject of another stunning picture book, TEA WITH MILK. In time, the grandfather begins to miss Japan, and he decides to return to his homeland, along with his wife and grown daughter.

Say’s watercolor artistry is fantastic, as his skilled brush gracefully ages each character in the book. As a parent, I imagined my own children growing up, and realized how brief is the time we call childhood. The story continues, with the grandfather’s heart truly in two places, America and Japan.

Anyone who has ever traveled abroad can relate to this experience. As I read his book, I wept, because I too have lived in Japan, and part of my heart will always remain overseas. Since this initial reading, I’ve bought several of Say’s picture books, and they have become family favorites.

The greatest literature reaches beyond its pages and connects to the hearts of its readers. Through his timeless words and portraits, Allen Say has clearly accomplished this task.

By: Heather Ivester in: Book Reviews,Japan,Travel | Permalink | Comments Off on Grandfather’s Journey, by Allen Say